Let’s Talk About Love

No, not the Celine Dion song, although you better believe I listened to it while I was writing my sermon this week!

This scripture was actually the catalyst for this sermon series looking at 1 Corinthians in the first place.  I wanted to explore some of the “love” passages in the Bible that we know so well to help us, as a congregation, as we continue to figure out how to best love God, love one another and then love others.  Though not at all planned, the timing was perfect in light of Valentine’s Day this week!

We only have one more week left in this sermon series and then it’s Mardi Gras, Lent (I think I’m going to follow the RCL for Lent) and then I’m having a baby!  I cannot believe that at the end of Lent, I will (hopefully) be preaching Easter and then will be off on maternity leave for 10 weeks.  This pregnancy flew by!

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
February 9, 2020

1 Corinthians 13

Let’s Talk About Love

Okay, show of hands:

How many of you have heard this scripture read at a wedding before?

I said a few weeks ago when we kicked off this sermon series looking at 1 Corinthians that this chapter of Paul’s letter was the driving force behind my desire to look at this particular book of scripture.  The theme of love appeared and then re-appeared frequently throughout the year here, at RCC, in 2019 and I wanted to further explore, not only Paul’s well-known words about love that we just heard, but also the context in which he wrote them.

In reading bits and pieces of 1 Corinthians leading up to this passage on love, we know now that Paul is not actually addressing two people who are getting married when he talks about love.  Instead, Paul is speaking to a church he founded that is struggling to work through some differences and conflicts.

First of all, before I dig a little bit deeper into this passage, I do want to say that despite the fact Paul is not actually talking about marriage here, I still think this is a really good scripture to read at a wedding – or even 5 – 10 – 20 years down the road in marriage when you and your spouse are deep in the throes trying to do life together and life is hard.  I am only ten years into the whole marriage thing, but that has been long enough to know that sometimes you need a love to sustain your relationship that is strong and powerful enough to bear all things, believe all things, hope all things and endure all things.

Because the things in life are hard, right?

I don’t want anyone to take away from my sermon that I think these words have no value in our marriages or even in our other relationships with one another.  Because they absolutely do.

However, I think these words are even more powerful when we think about where they come from and what Paul means when he writes them.

So let’s talk about love.

If Paul is not talking about marriage here, then what is he talking about?

Okay – who remembers my sermon from last week?  What did I talk about?

The Body of Christ.

This is one of the instances in this sermon series looking at different parts of 1 Corinthians where I intentionally had us read two passages, chronologically, without skipping anything in between.  Because it is imperative to our understanding of Paul’s explanation of love that we see it as a continuation of his explanation of the Body of Christ.  As soon as Paul finishes his dialogue on the Body of Christ in chapter 12, he leads directly into this passage on love.

Understanding these two passages as one linear passage instead of two separate ones gives us a really good insight into what Paul is thinking and that is that the Body of Christ works because love is so powerful.

I spoke last week about the fact that Paul’s words about the Body of Christ acts as an assurance that we do not all have to agree on everything or view the world the same way in order for us to be united in the Body of Christ.  This is especially poignant for us, as a congregation.  We are very diverse politically, generationally and geographically.  We believe different things and come to church for different reasons.  This church means some different to each one of us.  Paul’s words assure us that it is okay if we disagree with the people sitting to the left and to the right of us; but that we are all still united in Christ, called to come together and proclaim the Gospel despite the differences that often threaten to divide us.

You may be wondering, however, how?  How do we come together and stand united in Christ when some of our beliefs are so different?  How do we overcome this diversity and do what God is calling us to do, as the church?

Today, Paul gives us the answer – love.  We are able to come together as the Body of Christ because God’s love is so powerful.  We are able to work together, despite our differences, because God’s love works as an agent of transformation within us.  We are able to be who God is calling us to be and do what God is calling us to do because God’s love is what motivates us and propels us forward.

Paul talks about love as if it is a noun, not a verb.  Love is something that already exists in the world; it is not something that we necessarily have to create, but that we have to uncover.  I think it is one of our responsibilities, as the church, to uncover this love – to show the world that God’s love is real, to demonstrate the bold and radical truth that love can conquer evil and to create a space for love to show us what it is capable of.

I think it is important to remember when we read this passage is the time frame Paul is writing in.  He is part of the first generation of evangelists; not that much time has passed since the resurrection.  This idea of the end time – the return of Christ – is relevant, because they thought it was happening soon; but in other ways, it was also unsettling for people, because they just do not know what the future is going to hold.

And Paul references it, here in this passage.

In verse 12, he says: “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face.”  In other words, right now we cannot see fully the glory of God, but one day we will meet Jesus and everything will make sense.  “Now I know only part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.”  In other words, right now we only understand a part, but one day we will understand completely.

The reason Paul brings up the end time here is actually to strengthen his argument about just how powerful love is.  Because it is permanent – “Love never ends.”  Everything else is temporary, but love will never end.

“As for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end.”  Remember back to the chapter leading up to this passage on love where Paul talks about the Body of Christ.  Prophecies, tongues, knowledge – these are all spiritual gifts God appoints to us, but, Paul says, these are all temporary, but love never ends.

I was thinking about this idea of temporary and permanence this week, particularly as we are pouring so much time into chocolate festivals and cabarets and Mardi Gras Sundays.  Are these temporary?  Technically – yes.  And here’s the thing – it’s not that they don’t matter, because they do; they matter to us and to the people who experience the Gospel through them.  But our legacies are what we leave behind; love is what we take with us when see God face to face, when fully know and understand what this love means.

When Paul talks about temporary versus permanence, I do not think he means that our stuff and our lives and our gifts don’t matter, I think he just means that love is stronger than all of it.

I used to read this passage of scripture as a charge – as a charge to love in a way that is patient, kind, not envious, not boastful, not arrogant and not rude.  But now I am kind of reading it as a promise.

A promise that love is what God says that it is.

A promise that love is real.

A promise that love is powerful.

A promise that love will never end.

A promise that, even in those very human moments of imperfection and conflict and uncertainty, love is still there.

And so as we do the hard work that is proclaiming the Gospel and serving our community and nurturing our local church, we do so assured of this promise that love is already here.

Today, as we read these words that, in many ways, are very familiar to us, I invite you to be reassured of this same promise.  This promise that love is real; that our lives and our relationships and our spiritual gifts work because of this love.  Hold fast to this truth that this love is already here among us, waiting for us to uncover it and use it and show it to the world.  Remember that this love will never end.

Don’t hope that love wins – believe that love wins.

I still think this passage is beautiful to read at weddings – but I do not think we should limit its capacity to transform our lives in other ways and places.  I think we should let it speak to us in all of our moments – the extraordinary and the ordinary.  I think we should remember that love not just something that is celebrated on February 14th every year, but something that is promised to us always – in life and beyond life.

“And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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Appointed Into The Body Of Christ

The deacon leading worship on Sunday came into my office before church and was commenting on how much he loves this scripture.  Honestly, it’s always been one of my favorites!  It’s wonderful as it stands alone, but then, when you think about the fact that it leads into Paul’s words on love, is even more powerful.

There are so many different directions you can go with this text!  I talked about the distribution of work within the Body mostly because I thought it was timely with where we are, as a church, but really the possibilities are endless when you preach this.  There’s so much good stuff in it!

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
February 2, 2020

1 Corinthians 12

Appointed Into The Body Of Christ

If ever there was a piece of scripture that has the capability to sum up the work of the local church in less than 1,000 words, it is the 12th chapter of Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth.

It is in this chapter that Paul names the Body of Christ.

It is in this chapter that Paul says we do not all have to live out our faith in the same ways.

It is in this chapter that Paul admits that we are not called to do it all.

It is in this chapter that Paul assures us that different does not mean bad; that not only is it okay that we all possess different spiritual gifts, but that it is actually necessary for the church to survive and thrive in the generations to come.

I think it is easy for us to read this scripture today and think, of course this makes sense, this is the only way that societies and businesses and communities function.  You need different people fulfilling different roles in order for all of the roles to be fulfilled.  Think of it this way:  I am very happy to be your pastor and most days even think I do a pretty good job at it; but if y’all need advice on your taxes between now and April 15th, I am so not the person you should be talking to.  And on the flip side, I do not think my accountant wants to be preaching, either!

But this is exactly my point:  We all take care of a piece of life so that other people do not have to do it all.  And those other people take care of a different piece of life so that we do not have to do it all.  It seems so logical; and yet for this church Paul is writing to, it is countercultural.

You have to remember where the Corinthians were coming from.  This was a relatively new church.  Paul had gone to Corinth and founded this church; but after he left to continue evangelizing in new cities, he heard reports of conflict back in Corinth.

From the very beginning of this chapter, Paul names exactly why the Corinthians are struggling.  He says in verse two, “You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak.”[1]  In other words, Paul is saying, I know this whole “one God” thing is very new to you all.

A majority of the Corinthian church is made up of Gentiles (people who were not Jewish prior to their conversion to Christianity) and only a small percentage of people in this church are Jewish Christians (people who were Jewish prior to their conversion to Christianity).  Because of this, it is safe to assume that most people are not accustomed to monotheism – to worshiping one God.  The Gentile people – the majority of the people in this church – even if they were not practicing, had at least been influenced by the pagan culture in Corinth before Paul entered the scene.  And so they were used to this notion that if you had one gift, you worshiped a certain God and if you had another gift, you worshiped a different God.

But here Paul is saying that, no matter what gifts you possess, you will all worship the same God.  Because “there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit, and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord.”[2]

This is a very different way of life and spirituality than most of these people are used to living.  What it means is, that instead of silo-ing themselves into different groups of people who all possess like-minded gifts and worship a God that is pertinent to only that like-minded gift, they are now being called to open themselves up to be one body and to serve one God.

I think sometimes when I talk about the Body of Christ, I talk about it in a more superficial way.  I use it for recruiting and for affirming all of the many ways that you can serve this church.  But when Paul talks about it here, he is really digging deep into the depths of how the people in this community understand the world to be.

And so Paul is saying they need to step outside of these silos and embrace not only that which they hold in common with the other members of this church, but also that which stands in stark contrast with them. Because diversity does not mean lack of unity; it just means that together we create the Body of Christ.

When Paul talks to the Corinthians about the Body of Christ, he is not doing this as a way of “volun-telling” people for various boards and committees, like say, perhaps, yours truly might do; he is actually talking about the Body of Christ in order to shift an entire community’s way of thinking, drawing them together in one body, instead of allowing them to remain divided.

And so, when we read these words today, I think there are actually two really important takeaways for us.  The first is the one that we fall back on a lot – that we all have a different, but really vital role to play in the church.

Paul says at the end of this chapter, “God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues.”[3]  As we seek to do the hard work, today, that is proclaiming the Gospel and nurturing our local church, it is absolutely crucial we remember that we each have a unique role to play, that we all can contribute in ways both large and small.

It sounds so cliché, but this church needs you and the gifts that you possess.  This church needs people to sing in the choir, hand out bulletins, ring the bell at the beginning of worship, manage our money, clean the building, teach Church School, arrange the flowers, participate in mission projects and volunteer at events.  This church needs people to donate money and various items to different collections.  This church needs people to show up faithfully in worship and be ambassadors for the church out in the community.

What this church does not need is for you to try to do all of these things.  Like God appointed the Corinthian people to be apostles, prophets, teachers, healers, assisters and leaders, God appoints us in this church today to fulfill these various roles in confident hope that others are being appointed to fulfill the other roles.

In other words, the work that each and every one of us does matters; but we do not have to do it all or do it alone.  Instead, we have this incredible opportunity to stand in awe of the way God is not only using us within this church, but then also putting all the pieces together to create the whole of this beautifully holy, grace-filled and life-changing church.

The second important takeaway for us, today, has more to do with what Paul was specifically addressing in Corinth – and that is this hard to live out truth that it is okay for us to be different.

It is okay if we view the world differently.  It is okay if we understand our faith in different ways.  It is okay if we live out our faith differently from those around us.  We do not have to be of the same mind in order to be united in Christ.

There are very few places left in the world where you can gather with people who may share vastly different views as you and yet still be encouraged to love them and encourage them and embrace them and serve alongside them.  There are even fewer places left in the world where you can gather with people who may share vastly different views as you and yet know that they are loving you and encouraging you and embracing you and serving alongside you.

This is church.  This is a place where we are all called beloved and claimed as God’s children.  This is a place where we look each other in the eyes and see one another’s humanity.  This is a place where we do not try to change one another; but instead where we meet each other where we are and love one another as Christ loved us.

This is church.  This is the Body of Christ.  The Body of Christ that has many members.  The Body of Christ where all are baptized as one and made to drink of one Spirit.  The Body of Christ that does not consist of one member, but of many.  The Body of Christ where God has appointed us to use our gifts to nurture the church, to love one another and to share the Gospel.

The Body of Christ is not just something we are called into, it is a gift; it is a gift God gives to us so we can be united with one another, so we can be part of something bigger than ourselves and so, together, we can gather the church and proclaim Christ’s message of light, love and grace.

Welcome to the Body.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] 1 Corinthians 12:2, NRSV
[2] 1 Corinthians 12:4-5, NRSV
[3] 1 Corinthians 12:29, NRSV

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We Are All In This Together

We continued our five-week journey through 1 Corinthians this week by looking at the fourth chapter in its entirety.  One of the things I love about doing scripture-based sermon series (as opposed to theme-based, which is what we did in Advent and over the summer) is that I really don’t know, from week to week, where my sermon is going to go.  Sometimes it is dictated by what is going on throughout the week and, in the case of this sermon, that was what happened.

Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
January 26, 2020

1 Corinthians 4

We Are All In This Together

One of the best things that I have every done to, kind of, deal with my “control issues” (which, for the record, I would call “attention to detail” but I can see where others draw a different conclusion) is to have a child.  And I am not just talking about the parenting side of things, either, I am talking about the work-balance side of things, as well.

The truth is, I was never really good at stepping away from my role at the church.  Even when I was on vacation, I would take phone calls and respond to text messages and occasionally scroll through my email and not let myself completely disconnect.

And I don’t say this as a way to humble brag or make myself a martyr for the cause, either.  While I do think part of this has to do with my “control issues,” an even bigger part of also has to do with the fact that I love this church so much; I love the community, I love the people and it does not always seem so much as a job for me as it is a way of life – for me and for my family.

Last week when we looked at the beginning of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, we talked about just how clear it is in his salutation how much Paul loves this church.  In this conversation, I could really resonate with Paul’s sentiments because they are similar to mine when I talk about our ministry here, at the church.  So I can only imagine how difficult it must have been for Paul to found these churches and to work so closely with them and then have to leave to travel to a new place.

All this is to say, I have thought about this a lot over the past few weeks as I worked to secure my maternity leave coverage.

Here’s the thing – I will be away for ten weeks; and while I likely will have the best of intentions to touch base and try to stay connected because I really do love you all, there is a very good chance I will get distracted and not always follow through on those intentions.

And so it is important to me that, as a community, we are ready for me to step back in April.  The difference between now and when I went on maternity leave with Harrison is that our church has grown a little bit, we have more going on and I will be gone primarily during the program year and not just during the summer.

But, like my father always says, the show must go on.  I was thrilled to share with the Executive Board this week that a very good friend and colleague of mine has agreed to step in for me while I am away; she and I were part of the same clergy community of practice for eight years and she is very much looking forward to sharing in ministry with you all.  She will be filling in part time, so, to some extent, we will have to prioritize what we need from her.

On the one hand, it feels kind of strange to be stepping away, even if it is only for a short amount of time, but, on the other hand, I am actually a little excited to watch what this church does together, as a community, in my absence.

Like I said, I have been thinking about this a lot over the past couple of weeks, because not only have I been working out the details of my maternity leave coverage, but we are also now looking at 1 Corinthians, which is a letter Paul wrote to the church a Corinth, a church that he founded, but was away from when he wrote the letter.  On top of that, in bible study we are reading 1 Thessalonians and 2 Thessalonians, which are also letters Paul wrote to a church that he founded, but was away from when he wrote them.

This theme of what does it mean to serve a church and then to step away keeps popping back up to the surface around here.  For all I know, it is a total God thing getting me ready to be away for a little bit, but I also think it is really cool to envision (there’s my star word – vision) what a church can do and be when it is about its people and not necessarily its pastor.

The difference between us and the Corinthians, of course, is that, from the tone of this letter and the fact that Paul says he is hearing reports about conflict and quarrels, it appears that when Paul left Corinth, chaos ensued.  Now, I fully expect – and actually hope – that a certain level of blessed and holy chaos ensues when I go on maternity leave.  But certainly not exactly what was going on in Corinth.  So clearly this is certainly not an even comparison; however I do not think a church has to be actively experiencing turmoil and conflict to benefit from Paul’s words here.

A majority of this particular chapter reads as a defense; a defense of Paul and the people he is in ministry with, who helped him found this church.  The problem is, when Paul founded the church, the Corinthians all looked to him in leadership; but when he left, people still felt like they needed a leader and so they started splitting off into various groups and forming allegiances to different people.

Here, Paul is saying, however, that they are all, in fact, equal in Christ; that he is equal with the other Apostles and with the members of the Corinthian church and that the members of the Corinthian church are all equal with one another.

Paul writes:

So that none of you will be puffed up in favor of one against another.[1]

In other words, we are all on the same team.  This is our church – and we have a shared mission.  We have to work together and view everyone’s role as equally important.

Let’s look at verses 8-13.

It is easy to take these verses out of context.  Paul speaks highly of the Corinthians, calling them kings who are wise and strong and seemingly speaks lowly of himself and the apostles, calling them fools for the sake of Christ who are weak.  If you just read these verses, it might seem like Paul is conceding to the church, but when you look at the tone of the rest of the letter, however, it is apparent, in fact, that Paul is being somewhat tongue and cheek in his writing here.  He is making these sarcastic paradoxes as a way of pointing out to the church that is somewhat ridiculous and not at all productive for the sake of the Gospel to think of yourself as anything other than equal with your brothers and sisters in Christ.

Because, again, we are all in this together.

And, again, Paul is writing this with love.  He goes on in verse 14 to say, “I am not writing this to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children.”  He loves this church, he believes in this church and he, too, is envisioning what this church can do and be.

I understand where Paul is coming from because, again, I share these same sentiments.  Our church is in a really exciting place right now.  And, to be quite honest, while this does make the prospect of stepping away for maternity leave a little scarier this time around, it also gives me so much hope when I envision what you all, as a church, are going to accomplish while I am away.

This scripture reminds us that we are all equal partners in our ministry together, which I think is a really important message for us to hear, in our own church, today.  Because whether you have been a part of this church for your entire life or, perhaps, you have only just walked through the doors for the first time today, we are all in this together.  We are all sharing in this ministry together.

And what a beautiful and blessed and holy ministry it is.

The really cool thing about our church is that we have a bottom-up structure; we govern ourselves and the work we do is done by all of us – together.  And so I would encourage you, as we all continue to dream about this new year, to really think about what God is calling you to do in this moment.  Because whether it seems like we, as individuals, are doing something seemingly big or small, significant or insignificant, Paul’s words remind us that we are all doing this together.

There are so many different ways to get involved at the church right now.  Like I said in my epistle note on Friday, don’t feel like you have to get involved in everything!  This is why we have a village.  Know that whatever you are doing, your work matters and you are making a difference in this church.  Remember that together we create the church and that together we are the Body of Christ and that together we will share the Good News of God’s creating, redeeming and sustaining love to a world that so desperately needs to hear it and that together, we will be servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] 1 Corinthians 4:6, NRSV

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